It’s that time of year again when you see players from opposing leagues and even players in the midst of bitter rivalries (of course I’m talking about the Red Sox and Yankees) come together and spend a couple of days basking in the glory of their superb seasons at the mid-summer classic.
In Baltimore, it’s just another year in which only one of the Birds was honored at the All-Star game as a reserve. A major reason only one of them made the trip to Arizona is because the Orioles have been struggling and find themselves in a deep hole in the American League East – 18 games behind Boston.
If the Birds are going to have any chance in their cut-throat division, they are going to need to think less and just go out there and play baseball. Their frustration was evident in last weekend’s first half finale series against the Red Sox when tempers flared and benches cleared on two occasions.
Coming into the 2011 season, I was very optimistic and honestly felt that this season was the year for a winning season to break the 13 consecutive losing seasons in Baltimore. With the additions of Mark Reynolds, Vlad Guerrero, Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy, Justin Duscherer, Kevin Gregg, I really thought that the Birds had a shot in their division.
The Orioles have not enjoyed the success that fans hoped and pleaded for over the last decade. Baltimore finished the first half 16 games under.500nat 36-52 and in fifth place in the East.
What has plagued the Orioles over the first 88 games? A combination of basically all aspects of play. Their starting pitching has been horrendous and their defense has really faltered. Early on in the season, their clutch hitting was superb, but they’ve struggled as a team over the last month or so when it counts at the plate.
Entering the season, the Orioles starting rotation was supposed to look like this: Jeremy Guthrie, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, Justin Duchscherer and either Chris Tillman or Brad Bergesen. Currently, two of those starters are in Triple-A Norfolk, one is in the bullpen and one is on the disabled list (I’m sure you can guess who even if you haven’t followed the Orioles).
Yes, I’m referring to Justin Duchscherer, who still has not thrown a pitch in an Orioles uniform. When the Orioles landed him, they knew he was injury-plagued as he missed the 2009 season and most of the ’07 and ’10 seasons with the A’s. But, they took a chance and snatched him from the bay.
I was a bit skeptical of this acquisition at the time because I feared what most others did: he wouldn’t be able to pitch an entire season. Conventional wisdom would suggest he might be back by now from a left hip injury, the same that limited his pitching last year to only five games all season. That is not the case.
In 2008, Duchscherer was 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA in 22 starts with the Oakland Athletics, an organization that prides itself on exceptional pitching. Everyone knows he can pitch well, he just is constantly injured and his absence has really hurt the Orioles rotation.
Tillman began the year in the starting rotation as a replacement for Matusz. He started 10 games for the Birds early in the season and sported a 2-3 record with a 4.69 ERA over 48 innings and opponents hit .291 off him.
Tillman was optioned to Triple-A in late May after failing to record a win in over three weeks and has not been recalled since.
Bergesen also began the season in the rotation for the Birds, but struggled in his nine outings as he pitched to a 1-6 record with a 5.36 ERA; he was optioned to Triple-A as well at the end of May, but recently has returned to the major although he still is struggling as his ERA has risen to 5.65 since his return on June 18th.
The biggest surprise of the 2011 season as far as starting pitching has been Matusz and his poor performances. He returned to the rotation in June having been sidelined for first two months of the season with an intercostal strain in his pitching elbow.
Matusz started six games for the Birds and recorded one win with 4 losses and a very lofty 8.77 ERA over only 25.2 IP. Opponents were hitting .357 off of Matusz before he was returned to Triple-A exiting with eight earned runs over 3.1 innings against St. Louis.
Coming into this season, Matusz was thought to be the Orioles second-best starting pitcher and an ace in the making for the future. He has not lived up to expectations and many believe it’s because he returned too early from his injury. He’s been in the minors for half a month and hopefully will be able to return to the rotation by the end of July.
The only two consistent Orioles starting pitchers this season have been Guthrie (plagued by low run support) and rookie Zach Britton. Britton struggled recently, but impressed the front office over his first couple of months with the team. His ERA just rose above four for the first time in his last outing in Boston last Friday.
The Orioles starting rotation sports a 4.98 ERA as they’ve allowed 266 ER in only 481.2 IP. Overall, the Birds’ ERA is 4.76, which places them last in the both the American and National Leagues with the Astros close behind at 4.68 while the Cubs check in at 4.62.
Although the Orioles are ranked 5thin the American League with a .258 average, they have not produced in clutch situations. Their offensive woes can be attributable to a couple of the new faces that the front office added so they would be able to put up more runs than last season.
Earlier in the season, the Birds were hitting .270-.280 with runners in scoring position, but recently as a team they’ve dropped to .254, which ranks them in the middle of the pack in the majors, but they’ve faltered as of late.
Lee, who belted 46 HR with the Cubs in 2005, and has amassed more than 300 in his career, only has 9 HR thus far into the season hitting at a dismal .235. Before this season, Lee was a .280 career hitter, but he has not performed to his standards.
He has really struggled when hitting with runners in scoring position; with less than two outs, he’s batting only .127, and when there are two down, his average drops to just barely over .100 at .103.
The Birds picked up Lee not necessarily for his homerun power, but his RBI production. He averages about 89 RBIs a season, but has only knocked home 28 Orioles up to this point. He’s on pace for only 55 homeruns this year.
Guerrero, who was the most well-known acquisition to the Birds, has not been able to make the transition to full-time designated hitter nor produce like he used to with the Angels.
He’s batting .279 with only 7 HR and 31 RBIs and is on pace to smash six more homeruns, which would be the lowest in a season in his career, and only 25 more RBIs. Although he would only have 56 RBIs, in 2009 he only drove in 50.
Orioles fans expected him to hit around .300 and blast about 25 HR with 70 RBI. Guerrero has struggled with runners in scoring position as he’s hitting .225 with less than two outs and .235 with two down.
Another hitting disappointment this season has been fan-favorite Luke Scott, who is currently on the DL. In 63 games, he’s batting .223 with only 9 HR and 22 RBI. He was expected to hit around 25 HR and drive in about 80 RBI, but is not on pace to match either of those statistics.
Scott, like many Orioles recently, has had trouble hitting with runners in scoring position (.222) and with two down and runners in scoring position (.250). Not to mention, he’s struggled with left-handed pitchers as he’s collected six hits in 36 at-bats (.176).
One of the reasons why the Orioles offense has struggled to produce runs this season, ranked 20th in the majors with 355 runs and 10th in the American League, is due to the absence of second baseman lead-off hitter Brian Roberts.
We all know what Roberts can do when he is healthy…collect more than 50 doubles, bat around .300 and steal about 35 bases. If Roberts returns and stays healthy for the remainder of the season, it will greatly rejuvenate the offense as he is the catalyst in the order.
As I mentioned earlier, their defense has been atrocious over the last month or so. For the most part, their bullpen has been solid, but there have been some rough patches as of late. In my next article, I’ll finish the mid-summer review by analyzing their defense, bullpen and expectations of where the Birds should be at in regards to their schedule and division. Check it out Saturday!
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About the Author
Written by Alex Van Rees
I am 22 years old and I recently graduated from James Madison University this May with a BA degree and a major in journalism. I live in Reston, VA, about 20 minutes outside of Washington. I am looking for an entry-level position with a sports media company where I can demonstrate my writing, interviewing and technical skills to better the organization.